The boundary between fiction and reality is often absurdly blurred in the strange illusory land that is North Korea.
Nothing is quite what it seems. A folding factory chair is encased in a glass box because the visiting Supreme Leader once sat upon it.
A spanking modern six-lane motorway is all but deserted.
And a factory boss sheds what look like genuine tears over the dangers faced by roly-poly dictator Kim Jong-un on his foreign visits.
We take tea with a “normal” family, speak to student teachers, witness “world class” cosmetics being made and see how an “idyllic co-op farm” operates.
But from the moment we arrive, senior officials from the Ministry of Information watch our every move. We are ordered not go anywhere or talk to anyone without them.
And we are warned that if we are seen without our government-issued “Press” armbands we will face immediate expulsion.
Officials delight in telling us how “extremely privileged” we are to be there after previously daring to report on “untruths”. We will soon see for ourselves the reality of “great Korea” where all live in “happiness and harmony”.
As mother-of-two Sung Song Gi shows us round her Pyongyang apartment, I can’t help notice the triumphant photographs and posters covering the walls.
As chief of a glass factory, she had been allowed to attend the latest summit of the Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
She was one of just 3,000 delegates. We are, indeed, in most distinguished company.
With introductions out of the way, Mrs Sung does not hesitate to sing the party line. What she says, according to our government minder, is: “In Korea, we are one heart united and this is our reality.
“The Korean people are always thinking and feeling as one, united as one heart.
“I am proud of this – that our Supreme Leader is the best leader in the world and I am happy that he is the leader of us in Korea.”
The Supreme Leader was re-elected unanimously at the May 2016 meeting.
Nobody was very surprised as the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” is a one-party state ruled with an iron fist by Kim, the third in line of a family dynasty in power since 1948.
Intrigued, I press her on whether she thinks everyone – even the farmers who toil in the fields – believe as she does.
Mrs Sung replies: “We believe the party will provide everything for us for we are all the same, the worker in the factory, the road sweeper, the farmer.
“You will find it difficult to believe this is true but this is the reality that we are all looked after by the Workers’ Party. Our Supreme leader Kim Jong-Un always says that is the happiness of all the Korean peoples.
“This is the principle, this is the policy for us. We are happy and proud to be working for the country to move forward.”
Mrs Sung introduces her daughter and son-in-law, who treat us to world-class operatic piano performances. Then, slightly oddly, they switch to Phantom of the Opera followed by Sinatra classic My Way.
Mrs Sung weeps when speaking of Kim’s summer meetings in Singapore with Donald Trump and in China with Premier Xi.
The tears are not because of fears of an increase in sanctions that are currently crippling the economy but for Kim’s safety travelling “to foreign lands”.
She says: “I am always worrying about our Supreme Leader when he travels.
“When he was in Singapore having the meeting or visiting China three times, during his long trips abroad I am always thinking about him and worried about his health.
“This is how all Korean people think. I am always thinking about him.
“My life is connected to the Supreme leader’s life, that is why I am always thinking and worrying about him.”
When pressed on how sanctions – a result of Kim’s obsession to have nuclear weapons – are affecting the country she says: “I will just tell you this… the righteous will always have victory.
“In my experience, all our great leaders always are thinking about the people. They devote their whole life for the Korean people. That’s why they go abroad for us. So we believe if we work along the way for the country, our leaders will lead us to happiness.
“So the righteous will always get victory no matter what.”
Throughout the rest of our stay, guides take us to factories and a farm where on the surface everything seems idyllic.
But, like the folding factory chair encased in a glass box, the constant absurdity of the situations we encounter are becoming apparent.
On the motorway we count exactly 27 cars, 13 buses and 11 lorries in two hours.
We see pristine accommodation for 400 workers at a silk factory – but no signs of anyone living there.
The co-operative farm for 1,300 workers, with brand new flats, a nursery, gym and medical centre, has just two farmers in a greenhouse.
They stand under a red-and- white propaganda banner that reads “Let’s produce more vegetables to supply the Pyongyang citizens”.
One says: “I am so happy to work to contribute to my Korea and believe our leader will help us prosper always”.
In a cosmetics factory we are shown graphs of how the 300 products made there are “as good or better” as leading brands including Chanel, Lancome and Estee Lauder because Kim has instructed bosses to make them the best on the planet.
But in a world with no advertising, no outside information and a slavish devotion to the word of the Supreme Leader, absolutely nothing is anything like what it seems to be.
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